SHELF LIFE: Report From The Dark Side (Guest Post)
I’m turning SHELF LIFE today over to my chum, Jess Lourey. A couple of months ago I expressed my feeling about crowd funding by authors to get their book projects off the ground. Well, Jess is doing it…along with all the guilt that goes along with it. Now, here’s Jess.
On October 1, 2014, I went live with my first-ever Kickstarter campaign. I am requesting $12,056 by October 31 to fund the professional self-publication of The Catalain Book of Secrets, the magical realism novel I began writing in 2001, days after my husband died. This first week of the campaign has been a roller coaster of emotions, in particular, excruciating self-awareness and low-lying self-loathing. Let me explain.
First, the self-loathing. I’ve traditionally-published ten books, and with each of them, I apologize when someone asks me to sign them because I feel bad that people are spending money on me. When I get a starred review from Booklist or Library Journal, I suspect the reviewer might have been drinking. If you told me you liked my hair, I’d wonder if you needed glasses. I’m that person. And so, when I tell you that The Catalain Book of Secrets has magic in it, the kind that will stick with you long after you put the book down, know that it is a physically painful act for me to say something nice about myself. That’s how much I believe in this one. I can’t keep it down, which is why, after phone conferences with three different NY editors (Random House, Penguin, Simon & Schuster) and three subsequent rejections (and many more), I decided to self-publish. I can do it. I’ve done it before.
But this book is magical realism, and so not easily-categorized and therefore, not easily sold. Plus, it’s completely different than the humorous mysteries I’ve built my audience on. For CBS to find its audience, I needed the help of booksellers. To reach them, I needed to step out of my comfort zone and go to Kickstarter.
Cue the self-loathing.
There is a story of a great-aunt of mine quietly choking to death at a dinner table because she didn’t want to ask anyone for help. I am the child of German immigrants who worked hard, and then worked harder, and then drank and talked about people. But they NEVER asked anyone for help. I’ve self-pubbed before and so know it can be done on the cheap, and I have friends (hello, Simon!) who have done incredibly well for themselves by writing and self-publishing great books at little upfront cost. But that wouldn’t work for CBS. It needs the support of booksellers and book groups to find its audience. Not only that, I saw firsthand how few risks the Big 5 (http://publishing.about.com/od/BookPublishingGeneralInfo/a/The-Big-Five-Trade-Book-Publishers.htm) were taking, and that means that writers, readers, and bookstores everywhere are losing out. What if I could use my book to pave some sort of trail that connects indie authors with indie booksellers? That idea captivated me, but I didn’t have the money to do it on my own. Getting a book in bookstores requires professional reviews, galley copies, shipping, and more, and that adds up to much more disposable income than a midlist author/teacher has.
So I did it. I launched my Kickstarter campaign.
It felt gross.
But then…the money started coming in. The campaign was 34% funded in the first 24 hours. HOLY MOLEY!!! And with the money came the loveliest notes from strangers, friends, and family, notes about believing in me and supporting me and wanting the best for me. I hate the word “humbling” almost as much as I hate LOL, but it’s the only word that fits that experience. And suddenly, I was faced with the fact that all these people believed in me enough to invest in me. Awesome, right? Except that meant I needed to start believing in myself on a whole new level. Not only that, I would have to quickly learn how to accept gifts gracefully, in the spirit they were given. Tall order. I also witnessed a buzz start to build for this book that has been living in my heart for twelve years–miraculous, right?! So that’s what I’ve been up to since October 1.
That, and talking to the owner of an influential, progressive bookstore here in Minnesota. She’s excited to help me get CBS on indie bookstore shelves all over the country, if the Kickstarter campaign is successful. This is incredibly exciting to me. Not only could the book find its audience, but maybe, if this book goes gangbusters, I can figure out some sort of indie underground railroad where books are reviewed and stocked based on their quality rather than the name of the corporation that published them. It’s a tall order I know, and with half a million books being self-published each year, it’ll require more structure to figure out how to separate the wheat from the chaff. But these are exciting times, and no matter how this turns out, I have no regrets (and only residual self-loathing) when I think about the launch of my Kickstarter campaign.
Jessica (Jess) Lourey is best known for her critically-acclaimed Murder-by-Month mysteries, which have earned multiple starred reviews from Library Journal and Booklist, the latter writing, her books are “a splendid mix of humor and suspense.” Jessica also writes sword and sorcery fantasy as Albert Lea and edge-of-your-seat YA adventure as J.H. Lourey, and is branching out into literary fiction, including magical realism, under her given name.
She is a tenured instructor of creative writing and sociology at a Minnesota college. When not teaching, reading, traveling, writing, or raising her two wonderful kids, you can find her dreaming big, playing with her dorky dog, or watching craptastic SyFy original movies. Visit her website at www.jesslourey.com, her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/jess.lourey, and her Twitter feed at https://twitter.com/jesslourey. All are welcome!